Zebras Hate You For No Reason: Why Amdahl's Law is Misleading in a World of Cats (And Maybe in Ours Too)

Jason Sachs February 27, 2017

I’ve been wasting far too much of my free time lately on this stupid addicting game called the Kittens Game. It starts so innocently. You are a kitten in a catnip forest. Gather catnip.

And you click on Gather catnip and off you go. Soon you’re hunting unicorns and building Huts and studying Mathematics and Theology and so on. AND IT’S JUST A TEXT GAME! HTML and Javascript, that’s it, no pictures. It’s an example of an

Favorite Tools: C++11 std::array

Matthew Eshleman February 27, 2017

Many embedded software and firmware projects must be developed to high standards of reliability. To meet these reliability requirements, firmware project teams will consider many design tradeoffs. For example, an engineering team may avoid or outright ban the use of dynamic memory allocation, a feature typically accessed via the C library call "malloc" or the C++ allocator "new". When authoring software under such...

Vala applications on Embedded Linux: maybe a clever choice [part 1]

Felipe Lavratti December 19, 2016

Vala is a sexy, open source, high level programming language that appeared in 2006, it counts with a modern typing system, is object oriented, compiled and statically typed, it has a almost identical syntax to C# and is maintained by GNOME. The language was created as a power abstraction of the GLib and GTK libraries, two considerably lightweight and powerful libraries written in C, and it is used in projects such as GNOME Clocks, Shotwell, GXml and Elementary OS.


Favorite Tools: C++11 User-defined literals

Matthew Eshleman November 14, 20161 comment

In many software domains units of measurement are frequently critical to the software's data processing requirements. Those same units, or rather the use of the wrong units, are often the source of bugs and disastrous mistakes. Although useful for other purposes, user-defined literals are an excellent addition to the C++11 standard and handy when working with units of measurement.

Suppose a device measures velocity. To help prevent errors, the software specification requires...

Surprising Linux Real Time Scheduler Behavior

Matthew Eshleman November 5, 2016

I have recently been helping with embedded software design and development for a data acquisition and visualization device. The software executes within an embedded Linux context and consists of various animated user interfaces rendering the acquired data.

The data is received via a UART and a SPI connection. During project development we noticed poor UART data latency issues during heavy user interface animations. For this product to properly meet its acquisition requirements, the UART...

Favorite Tools - Look Up Tables

Matthew Eshleman October 22, 20162 comments

As we grow in our engineering careers, we must continually add new tools to our collective tool kits. One favorite tool in my toolkit will be obvious to many experienced embedded software engineers. I still remember learning this approach early in my career via code written by colleague David Starling. The tool in question: 

Look up tables 

Look up tables simplify code and improve firmware maintenance. What is a look up table? A look up table is often nothing more complex than a...

From bare-metal to RTOS: 5 Reasons to use an RTOS

Jacob Beningo October 18, 20167 comments

Developers can come up with amazing and convoluted reasons to not use an RTOS. I have heard excuses ranging from they are too expensive (despite open source solutions) all the way to they aren’t efficient and use too much memory. In some circumstances some excuses are justified but there are many reasons why a developer should look to an RTOS to help with their real-time scheduling needs.

From bare-metal to RTOS Quick Links
  • Part 1: 

Best Firmware Architecture Attributes

Dr. Tayyar GUZEL June 4, 20165 comments

Architecture of a firmware (FW) in a way defines the life-cycle of your product. Often companies start with a simple-version of a product as a response to the time-to-market caveat of the business, make some cash out of the product with a simple feature set. It takes only less than 2-3 years to reach a point where the company needs to develop multiple products derived from the same code base and multiple teams need to develop...

Beyond the RTOS: A Better Way to Design Real-Time Embedded Software

Miro Samek April 27, 20167 comments

An RTOS (Real-Time Operating System) is the most universally accepted way of designing and implementing embedded software. It is the most sought after component of any system that outgrows the venerable "superloop". But it is also the design strategy that implies a certain programming paradigm, which leads to particularly brittle designs that often work only by chance. I'm talking about sequential programming based on blocking.

Blocking occurs any time you wait explicitly in-line for...

Embedded Firmware Refactoring, Optimisation and Migration

Ian Smith March 29, 2016

Legacy products are often based on older hardware platforms which often become under-powered or run out of memory which constrains further product development. Customers are always looking for new features and improved performance but often either don’t want to invest in new hardware or need to retain the current field population of devices.

These are ongoing challenges for any product manufacturer, but are particularly highlighted in embedded systems where product...

Using the Beaglebone PRU to achieve realtime at low cost

Fabien Le Mentec April 25, 20148 comments

I work as an engineer in a synchrotron facility. A few weeks ago, I helped the people in charge of the power supply developments to integrate a realtime control algorithm on a prototype platform: a BeagleBone Black (BBB) running Linux. I had already worked with this board in the past, and I found it very interesting given its excellent resources versus price ratio (around 40 euros). This time, I was impressed by its realtime capabilities. I thought it would be a good idea to...

Coroutines in one page of C

Yossi Kreinin August 20, 201315 comments

A coroutine is a function that you can jump back into after returning from it - and it remembers where it was in the code, and all the variables. This is very useful at times.

One use is generating a sequence of values. Here's how you can generate all the x,y pairs in a 2D range in Python:

def iterate(max_x, max_y): for x in range(max_x): for y in range(max_y): yield x,y for x,y in iterate(2,2): print x,y

This prints:

0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1

The yield keyword is like...

Chebyshev Approximation and How It Can Help You Save Money, Win Friends, and Influence People

Jason Sachs September 30, 201218 comments

Well... maybe that's a stretch. I don't think I can recommend anything to help you win friends. Not my forte.

But I am going to try to convince you why you should know about Chebyshev approximation, which is a technique for figuring out how you can come as close as possible to computing the result of a mathematical function, with a minimal amount of design effort and CPU power. Let's explore two use cases:

  • Amy has a low-power 8-bit microcontroller and needs to compute \( \sqrt{x} \)...

10 Software Tools You Should Know

Jason Sachs May 20, 201215 comments

Unless you're designing small analog electronic circuits, it's pretty hard these days to get things done in embedded systems design without the help of computers. I thought I'd share a list of software tools that help me get my job done. Most of these are free or inexpensive. Most of them are also for working with software. If you never have to design, read, or edit any software, then you're one of a few people that won't benefit from reading this. 

Disclaimer: the "best" software...

Using the C language to program the am335x PRU

Fabien Le Mentec June 7, 201480 comments

Some weeks ago, I published an article on how we used the PRU to implement a power supply control loop having hard realtime constraints:


Writing this kind of logic in assembly language is not easy. First the assembly language itself may be difficult to learn depending on your background. Then, fixed and floating point arithmetics require lot of code. While macros help to handle the complexity, they still are error prone as you...

Data Hiding in C

Stephen Friederichs April 21, 201317 comments

Strictly speaking, C is not an object-oriented language. Although it provides some features that fit into the object-oriented paradigm it has never had the full object-oriented focus that its successor C++ offers. C++ introduced some very useful concepts and abilities that I miss when I’m developing in ANSI C. One such concept is protected member variables and functions.

When you declare a class in C++ you can also declare member variables and functions as part of that class. Often, these...

Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part I: Idempotence

Jason Sachs August 26, 20144 comments

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of subtle concepts that contribute to high quality software design. Many of them are well-known, and can be found in books or the Internet. I’m going to highlight a few of the ones I think are important and often overlooked.

But first let’s start with a short diversion. I’m going to make a bold statement: unless you’re a novice, there’s at least one thing in computer programming about which you’ve picked up...

VHDL tutorial - A practical example - part 2 - VHDL coding

Gene Breniman May 27, 2011

In part 1 of this series we focused on the hardware design, including some of the VHDL definitions of the I/O characteristics of the CPLD part.  In part 2, we will describe the VHDL logic of the CPLD for this design.

With any design, the first step to gather the requirements for the job at hand.  From part 1 of this article, I have copied two sections that address some of the requirements for the CPLD design.

The data acquisition engine has the...

C++ on microcontrollers 1 - introduction, and an output pin class

Wouter van Ooijen October 9, 20117 comments


This blog series is about the use of C++ for modern microcontrollers. My plan is to show the gradual development of a basic I/O library. I will introduce the object-oriented C++ features that are used step by step, to provide a gentle yet practical introduction into C++ for C programmers.  Reader input is very much appreciated, you might even steer me in the direction you find most interesting.

I am lazy. I am also a programmer. Luckily, being a lazy...

Zebras Hate You For No Reason: Why Amdahl's Law is Misleading in a World of Cats (And Maybe in Ours Too)

Jason Sachs February 27, 2017

I’ve been wasting far too much of my free time lately on this stupid addicting game called the Kittens Game. It starts so innocently. You are a kitten in a catnip forest. Gather catnip.

And you click on Gather catnip and off you go. Soon you’re hunting unicorns and building Huts and studying Mathematics and Theology and so on. AND IT’S JUST A TEXT GAME! HTML and Javascript, that’s it, no pictures. It’s an example of an